There comes a time after the long months of winter that no matter how much you brush or how much product you apply, your horse’s coat looks dingy, matted, and has a lack of sheen. You love your woolly beast anyway, but if you’re planning on attending an early season indoor show or clinic, the dander doldrums can be your worst nightmare.
Don’t worry, there are several easy hacks for dust-busting and freshening up your horse — even if you’re only looking for a way to treat her to a day of healthy pampering. So put on your favourite playlist, grab a warm beverage, and enjoy this step-by-step guide to a late winter glow-up.
Clipping is an easy way to keep your horse looking show-ready all year round. But if you don’t clip, don’t despair; there are many other ways to improve your horse’s overall presentation and neatness.
Before you ride, first start by removing as much dirt and dander as possible from your horse’s coat with a long-toothed curry. A short-toothed curry only catches and pulls on the long, rough hairs of the coat, never penetrating to the soft hairs underneath, and failing to remove dander from the roots closest to the skin.
Once you’ve deep-cleaned the coat and removed the excess dander and dirt with a long-bristled body brush, your horse will look…dusty and disappointing. Don’t worry, you’re on the right track. Before you move on to the next step, a cactus cloth, fleece, or horse vacuum is an excellent way to remove the excess particles your brushes refuse to pick up.
After your ride, your horse will be sweaty and ready to be scrubbed. The idea of bathing in cold weather can be intimidating, considering you likely spend most of your time trying to make sure horses stay warm and dry! Spot cleaning and hot towelling are the safest and most effective ways to give your horse a winter bath.
Using a sponge and minimal water, wash under the saddle, the girth, and any other areas where salt stains appear or the hair gets gummy.
This is also a good time to clean your horse’s eyes, nose, ears, sheath/udders, and dock, making sure to use separate sponges or cloths to avoid cross-contamination.
Apply a small amount of your shampoo or product of choice to white socks and allow the shampoo to sit for a least a minute or two before removing during the hot-towelling process.
Before beginning, make sure to have a clean cooler, plus four or five large towels handy.
Add a pea-sized amount of bath oil, a half-cup of apple cider vinegar, and/or a gentle soap to a large bucket. Add a half-cup of an alcohol-based liniment to help with moisture evaporation. Fill the bucket with water warmed in a kettle. Moisten the towel in the water, and then wring it out completely and allow it to cool enough to be safe, but still hot.
Now it’s time to start scrubbing your horse section by section. Fold the towel down to the size of a facecloth, then work the towel into the coat in currying motions, opposite the fall of the hair. Lift out as much dirt as possible. When the towel becomes dirty, refold and begin again.
Finish by rinsing your spot-washes thoroughly and then allowing them to dry. Use an extra towel to dry your horse off as much as possible, and then put on the cooler. This method should leave your horse only slightly more damp than she usually would be after exercise, and drying times will be comparable.
While she’s drying, quickly wash the mane and tail. The mane can be hot-toweled like the coat, with a smaller hand towel. Starting at the roots, clean small sections of hair, rewetting the towel when necessary and using as little moisture as possible.
Depending on the temperature in your barn, the tail can be dunked in a bucket of warm water, lightly soaped, and then re-submersed to rinse. To speed drying times, immerse the tail only to the tip o the tail bone. Wring out as much water as possible. A hair-dryer can reduce drying time significantly, even if you don’t dry the entire tail.
Before you dry it, don’t forget to trim the tail a few centimeters — perfect straightness can make a huge difference to the eye.
Even if you don’t clip, you can use scissors to remove the excess fuzz that hides your horse’s beautiful lines. There are several key spots that will immediately improve your horse’s overall turnout.
Start by trimming her bridle path as evenly as possible. Then move on to the ears, including the hairs that protrude beyond the edges of the ear and also any longer hairs around the base. Next, trim the long hairs under the jaw and throatlatch. Thinning or removing these hairs will give a streamlined shape to your horse’s head, but make sure to work slowly and uniformly. To achieve maximum straightness with scissors, use the teeth of a very small comb to backcomb and roughly measure the hairs as you trim, making small, vertical snips rather than large horizontal cuts.
Likewise, to lengthen the line of the leg, start at the armpit and gently thin the hair on the back of the leg all the way to the pastern. Trim or thin the fetlock feathers, and any long hairs that hang over the front or sides of the hoof.
Now that her coat has had a little time to dry, peel back the cooler over the forequarter and, after applying your product of choice, lightly comb the hairs with your softest, cleanest brush, ensuring there are no cowlicks and the hair is lying flat. Repeat on the hindquarter, and then replace the cooler or change it if it has become damp. In addition to keeping your horse warm, drying under a cooler will make longer hair as sleek and flat as possible.
Use one of the dirty towels and the remaining hot water to scrub any dirt from the outside of her hooves. Then, after letting them dry, apply your favourite polish.
Lastly, finish with a dab of coconut oil on her chin, nostrils, and muzzle to make them shiny, soft, and smooth.